Teens are often described as distracted, restless, unmotivated — but that’s not junior golfer Zachary Olsen. For this 17-year-old, questing is more valued than coasting. Each weekend, Zachary practices his game in 10-hour marathons: chipping, swinging, and sharpening his play. During the week, he tees off every afternoon.
Those long hours of practice show. Not only is Zachary the top-ranked junior golfer in Tennessee, he is among the top 50 junior golfers in the world. He is fresh off a win in The Wally, a TGA Jr. Amateur Point Event with one of the strongest fields in statewide events. He won by one stroke; shooting a 68 and 71 for the two-day event, finishing 3 under par.
His family savors each victory, because they know how much winning means to Zachary, a rising junior at Memphis University School. Once, at age 10 and troubled over a disappointing finish, he told his mother, “That’s never gonna happen to me again.”
At Colonial Country Club’s golf course, temps in the 80s and clear skies make the afternoon ideal for practice. Zachary is currently preparing for a U.S. Open Qualifier, St. Jude Qualifier, and for five summer tournaments. At MUS, he plays for the school team under Coach Cliff Frisby and competes in individual junior and amateur events.
In every tournament, Zachary’s goal is to finish in the top 10. Last fall, he was determined to improve areas of his game after a difficult tournament in Oklahoma.
“Playing in that tournament made me lots better this year,” he says. “I enjoy trying to get better, knowing that I can get better.”
The sport’s solo aspect appeals to him. “I can handle being alone and stay focused for a long time.” Before starting golf at age 9, he earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Of course, behind every successful athlete is a good coach. Zachary’s coach is also his dad, Brad Olsen, who played for New Mexico State and Centenary College, before eventually becoming general manager/director of golf at Colonial Country Club.
“Their coach-student relationship is dynamic,” says mother Julie with a laugh. “It’s more challenging, now that Zachary is in his teens, but they are extremely close. Sometimes it’s tough love, [Brad] helping him realize where his shortcomings are. Brad knows that Zachary wants to get the most out of the game and do his best.”
Julie shares their passion for the sport. She also played golf at Illinois State University. Zachary credits both of his parents with helping him sharpen his mental game. “They’ve helped me focus on playing one shot at a time. You play it the best you can and then move on to the next shot.”
The driver stroke is one of this teen’s strengths. “He hits it straight and far and controls it,” says Julie. Zachary’s 6-iron shot covers 180 yards. He also follows a golf-specific workout that includes sit-ups, push-ups, squats, and weights.
When he’s not out on the golf course, his family takes top priority. He particularly cherishes his relationship with 12-year-old sister Katie, who attends Madonna Learning Center. “My life wouldn’t be the same without her,” says Zach.
Katie often swims at the club’s pool while her brother practices. The siblings enjoy watching favorite television shows, shooting baskets, and playing ping-pong together. Grandparents Terry and Karolee Olsen live in Cordova, and often cheer Zachary on at tournaments. His mother’s parents root for Zachary from their home in Illinois.
Golf might be in the Olsen genes, but his parents hesitated before agreeing to let their son compete. “Golf isn’t an instant gratification game,” notes Julie. “You’re born with the mentality or you’re not, and we were determined not to push him into it.” But when he competed at age 10, “he couldn’t get enough of it,” she says. “Once he got a little taste of tournament golf, he was all about it.”
Zach is both a top athlete and student, so colleges are already in pursuit. He plans to major in business law, but hopes he won’t have to use his college degree. Instead, he says he wants to turn pro and make golf a lifelong career — a goal that seems to suit him to a tee.